Thursday, May 31, 2012

God's Unified Plan for History: Understanding the Big Picture of the Bible by Grudem, Collins, and Schreiner

The purpose of “Understanding the Big Picture of the Bible” is to take a comprehensive view of the Bible both Old and New Testaments to show how God's plan is made manifest through the relationship of the two sections. The book focuses on the promises and predictions in the Old Testament that lead to the appearance of Christ.

The book has thirteen chapters, each dealing with an aspect of the over all thesis. Part One covers the books of the Old Testament, presents the theology and gives a brief description of what is covered in each grouping of books: Pentateuch, historical books, poetic and wisdom literature, and prophetic books. Part Two contains several essays on the history leading up to the New Testament. The New Testament section contains articles on the Gospels and Acts, the Epistles and Revelation. In addition to the articles there is a series of table at the end of the book giving the time line of events. These make an excellent reference for remember when things happened.

The book is very readable and contains a great deal of information. I thoroughly enjoyed the historical chapters because they gave a picture of what was happening in the world at the time leading up to the appearance of Christ. I highly recommend the book to anyone wanting a way to put the total Bible in context.

I reviewed this book for Crossway.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

On the Road to Emmaus

Two friends, close associates of Jesus, bowed down by grief and doubt encounter a stranger on the road to Emmaus. Loconte uses this encounter to discuss some of the major themes and questions of Christianity. The men are out of hope. They believed that Jesus was the messiah, but how can they relate this to the man who was taken by the Romans, beaten and crucified. A man who was given up by the Jewish elders as a rabble rouser.

Locante uses each part of the story: meeting the stranger, discussing the happenings in Jerusalem, being taught how the Old Testament points to Jesus, inviting the stranger to come for a meal, and when they break bread, seeing that the stranger is Jesus. Each section deals with a separate problem faced not only by the friends going to Emmaus, but by all Christians. We, too are searchers, looking for meaning in the dark events of the crucifixion.

The book is easy to read. The examples from history as well as today are plentiful and woven into the story to give a comprehensive view of how the story of the Bible is the story of God's promise fulfilled through Jesus Christ.

I highly recommend this book. If you're a believer, it will strengthen your faith, if not, the lucid discussion and myriad examples may have you asking why not. The book is beautifully written, not at all difficult to read and following the thread of the story will awaken you to how the Bible is reporting on events. It is the word of God.

I reviewed this book as part of the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.  

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Family, Love, and God's Plan

It's Christmas. The Sanders clan is gathering in Hope Springs. The festivities are dampened by the sudden death of Pastor Jim Dillon. He and Grandma Geri, matriarch of the clan, have lived next door to each other for many years so both families are caught up in the funeral preparations. The two families, one, the Dillons, white, the Sanders, black, are very supportive of each other in an atmosphere where whites and black tend to keep to themselves.

People from both families arrive with issues. Todd Dillon and is wife Becca, are mourning his father, but she is also caught up in the excitement of her expanding ministry. Stephanie Sanders arrives unwilling to spend Christmas getting to know this branch of her family. She doesn't want to serve, but perhaps the is God's plan for her. Janelle and her children arrive still mourning the death of her husband, David. These and many other characters from the family and the little town of Hope Springs make this a delightful book.

The message is strongly Christian. The characters all at some point seriously pray to God to guide them in finding the plan for their lives. I found the coupling of the strong Christian message with the modern characters, each with issues, very satisfying.

I highly recommend this book. The characters are appealing; the plot, full of romantic twists, and the emphasis on God's plan for our lives, instructive.

I reviewed this book as part of the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.

Too Much Focus on Psychotherapy: Gettin Dunn by Tom Schreck

The opening is full of action. TJ Dunn, survives an ambush in Iraq. Crawling across her Up-Armored-HMMWV (UAH) to get more ammunition, she falls off, breaks her arm, but survives. The UAH she was on moves forward, is hit and explodes. She wakes in the hospital to learn that Trent, her fiance has committed suicide. From there her life shifts into a downward spiral: topless dancing, manning a suicide hotline and lots of psychotherapy.

The focus on TJ's problems and concomitant psychotherapy makes the first half of the book rather slow. I felt we were treated to too many sessions with her therapist. Plus all the hotline scenes were oriented toward active listening and dealing with suicidal callers. The pace speeds up at the end of the book. We get more action as TJ is pursued by the killers.

I found the ending too good to be true, a twist that didn't work. The book was uneven and disappointing. Schreck has an interesting character in TJ. She's tough and smart and tries to fight her way through her problems. However, I felt the plot was weak and unrealistic, not a good way to showcase her.

I can't recommend this book. I found it difficult to get through the early chapters and then the ending was too unrealistic to be appealing. I hoped for something better on the strength of the action in the prologue.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Trying for Classic Noir: Murder by Moonlight by Vincent Zandri

Moonlight, a PI with some issues, like a bullet fragment in his brain from an unsuccessful suicide attempt, takes on an unusual client. Joan Parker survived an attack with a fireman's ax that killed her husband. At the scene, she identified her younger son, Christopher, as the perpetrator. Now she wants Moonlight to proved he's innocent.

The book is a typical PI story. The early chapters are mainly interviews with witnesses and potential suspects, but the action picks up at the end. In fact, the ending is quite violent. My problem with the progress of the story is that premise, Joan's belief in Christopher's innocence, doesn't seem reasonable in light of the ending. It's a though we're supposed to forget where we started.

I didn't enjoy the book. Although I enjoy classic noir and love Raymond Chandler. I don't enjoy detective stories in first person present tense. It seems artificial. Using 'pose' instead of 'ask' to identify a question seemed unnecessarily pretentious. The author tried to make Moonlight come across as a hard-boiled detective, but I found his dialog rather strained.

However, the story moves along at a good pace and if you can get by the author's peculiarities, it's a good read.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

An Argument For the Intellectual Acceptability of the Christian Belief in the Canon

The focus of this book is on answering the question of whether we, as Christians, can believe with intellectual honesty that we have the right twenty-seven books in the New Testament. In order to answer this question, the author organizes the book into two parts. Part one deals with the various approaches to Canon formation. Three models are evaluated: Canon as community determined, Canon as historically determined, and Canon as self-authenticating. In part two, he evaluates the models and concludes that both the community based and historically based models are insufficient to answer the question posed by the book. He concludes that the self-authenticating model is the most appropriate.

This book is very well written. The arguments are clear and the scholarship is evident. I believe the author is right in his summation that Christians do have sufficient evidence from the Canonical models, particularly the self-authenticating model, to justify the belief that the correct twenty-seven books are included in the New Testament. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in the arguments surrounding Canonical authenticity. It is a particularly good book for students of the New Testament and written in such a way that it can be understood by a variety of readers.

I reviewed this book for Crossway: Canon Revisited by Michael J.Kruger

Light Historical Romance with a Paranormal Touch

Lord Lyon wants to marry. He wants children, but the Chattan curse holds him back. If he weds someone he loves he will die. Mrs. Martin is a match-maker. Lord Lyon commissions her to find him a bride he can't love. This is not particularly difficult. Lyon is wealthy and there is no dearth of interest in becoming his bride.

The problem is that Mrs. Martin is Thea, daughter of Duke of Duruset, estranged from her family because of a runaway marriage. She and Neal were inseparable as teenagers. His father recognizing that he was falling in love with her, took his heir out of temptations way. But now Neal and Thea are thrown together. The curse hovers over them, but love is a strong motivator.

This novel is very light reading. The historical element is minimal. It could be set in any time period with the modification of a few details. I found the characters rather tedious in the beginning. Thea doesn't believe in the curse and keeps harping on how important love is, but Lord Lyon can't forget the sword hanging over his head. In the second half of the book, things pick up a little, but not enough for me to get interested in the fate of the characters.

The book is the start of a trilogy so predictably the end of the book isn't really the end. You have to read the next book and probably the third to get a resolution of the story. If you love light romance, this may be for you. If not, give it a miss.

I reviewed this book as part of the Amazon Vine Program: Lyon's Bride by Cathy Maxwell.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Amish Struggles During the Revolutionary War

The love story of Adam Wyse and Lena Yoder unfolds against the background of the Revolutionary War. The Amish believe fighting is wrong. Struggling to hold this belief separates them from their fellow Americans and opens them to persecution by both the Patriots and the Tories. It also leads to internal conflict for Adam Wyse.

On her death bed, Mary Yoder, Lena's mother, makes Adam promise that he will give up Lena's love until he is free from the father who abuses him. Adam desperately wants Lena. She's the love of his life, but equally, he can't break free from the abusive relationship with his father. This promise sets the stage for testing not only the young people, but the elders as well.

I enjoyed the book. It's an earlier time period than most Amish novels and much more complicated in the obstacles faced by the characters. I thought the author did a good job showing the internal conflict created by trying to live up to the belief that fighting is wrong while seeing that the fight for freedom is a worthy endeavor.

The too neat ending was, for me, a major flaw. All the problems were resolved. Each person got what they desired and life was beautiful. It was too much like a fairy tale. God helps to resolve issues, but it's not always the case that everyone gets what they think they want. I felt it would have been a stronger story if the ending hadn't tied everything up in a bow.

I reviewed this book for the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Good Advice for Understanding and Maintaining the Aging Brain

This book has two purposes: describing what the brain is like and giving suggestions for how to keep it healthy. The first parts of the book contain basic information on brain structure and function. If you're unfamiliar with how the brain is organized this is fairly simple to read and gives good information. The second part offers suggestions, supported by research, about keeping your brain functioning at an optimal level. This part is easier to follow and generally mirrors current information on how to keep your body healthy: exercise, nutrition, socializing, and attitude. Unfortunately, much of the research cited involves fruit flies and rats which may cause non-scientists to lose interest.

I enjoyed the book. I found information that I wasn't familiar with, like the correlation between dementia and diabetes. I was also fascinated by the chapter on Alzheimer's disease. While it isn't a particularly detailed medical account, it can provide a substantial amount of information for the general reader.

I recommend this book for anyone wanting to learn more about the aging brain. It isn't the definitive work, but it provides good information for the general reader and is a good place to start. As with all scientific information, it's always good to go to other references to educate yourself about particular points.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program: The Scientific American Healthy Aging Brain by Judith Horstman

Saturday, May 5, 2012

A Lengthy Soap Opera

Eliza, an upper-class girl, falls in love with and marries Matt, a working-class boy. Both have careers that take off; hers in the magazine world, his in real estate development. Along the way they have a child, Emmie, and predictably grow apart.

I found this book much too long. The first two sections, Love and Marriage, are primarily backstory. The final third of the book, Divorce, is where the action takes place. The acrimonious divorce and custody battle are quite well done. I think the book would have been much improved if the first two sections had been removed and the information used sparingly in the third section as backstory.

On the positive side the book deals with issues of class differences and the problems of being a mother and having a career. However, they're not unique enough to save the book. The characters are uninteresting and the story drags.

If you love soap operas, this may be the book for you. If not, give it a miss.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program: More Than You Know by Penny Vincenzi.

A Serial Killer Loose on the WWI Battlefield in France

Bess Crawford is a nursing sister serving at an aid station in France during WWI. At the height of the influenza epidemic, she and her orderly find a corpse in the tent housing the influenza victims awaiting burial who is instead a murder victim. Beth is almost immediately stricken with influenza. When she recovers, she wants to track down what happened to the murdered man. She is particularly interested because he was a promising officer in her father's regiment. As she tries to discover why he was murdered, the bodies begin to pile up putting Beth at risk to be the killer's next victim

I enjoyed the setting of this novel. The battlefield conditions were well drawn. However, the characters and plot did not live up to the promise of the opening scenes. I found Bess rather dull. She seemed withdrawn from the action and always looking to Colonel Sahib, her father, to extricate her from difficulties. Likewise I found the plot very slow and not believable. The rationale for all the killing seemed to me to be extremely thin.

I can't recommend this book very highly. I do like the Ian Rutledge series by the same authors, but this book doesn't live up to it's promise. The action moves slowly and much of it, for me, is quite unbelievable in a battlefield setting.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program: An Unmarked Grave by Charles Todd.

An Archaeological Expedition Plagued by a Curse

Jeremy Logan, an enigmalogist, is recruited to discover what is behind the curse that threatens Porter Stone's expedition to locate the tomb of Narmer, Egypt's first pharaoh. The tomb is purported to be located in the Sudd, a dismal, almost impassible, swamp located in northern Sudan. As the expedition comes closer to finding the site of the tomb, accidents happen. At first, people are only frightened or injured, but the accidents rapidly turn lethal. Events become particularly scary when the team finally enters the tomb hoping to find the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt.

This is a fun read, particularly if you're a fan of anything to do with ancient Egypt. The author points out that much of the history is not factual, but it's close enough to typical Egyptian history to make the novel believable. The characters are well drawn and interesting. It's one of the factors that keeps you reading even though the plot and who-done-it are easy to figure out.

I enjoyed this book and recommend it for escapist or beach reading. It's a fast paced thriller that will keep you entertained.

I reviewed this book as part of the Amazon Vine Program.